How to Improve Security at the Capitol

The editors of the Washington Post are concerned about improving the security at the U. S. Capitol:

The nature of the Capitol Police is unlike any in the country in that they perform mostly security functions and not traditional policing. The events of Jan. 6 were transformative, and it is clear that changes are needed in how the agency operates. A search is underway for a permanent chief to replace Steven Sund, who was forced to resign after the insurrection, and it is important that someone be found who can address internal issues, such as strengthening training, and external issues of a muddled chain of command that includes the House and Senate sergeants of arms and congressional leadership. Congress needs to do its part, so it is encouraging that a bill is in the works that would provide money for security improvements and include reforms to the police board that governs this critical agency.

Rather than commenting directly on the editorial or the politically fraught subject of Capitol security, I’ll comment on the Capitol Police.

The U. S. Capitol Police is the only law enforcement agency that does not report to the Executive Branch of the federal government. It reports to the legislative branch. Congressional inattention to its areas of responsibility have, sadly, become the norm.

The history of the force goes back to 1828 and its numbers have increased steadily since then to more than 2,000 sworn officers today. The area of its responsibility is 270 acres. That means that there are roughly three sworn officers per acre per shift for three shifts which should be manageable. The average pay for sworn officers of the USCP is more than $100,000 per year plus benefits including retirement. That is comparable to the pay of big city police forces around the country. Unlike big city LEOs the USCP are primarily security guards.

The minimum age for becoming a sworn officer of the USCP is 37. There is a mandatory retirement age of 57 (raising it to 60 is contemplated) but officers sometimes are allowed to serve additional years to enable them to reach 20 years of service. Once hired USCP officers are not required to be retested or meet any physical fitness standards.

I would make the following recommendations:

  • Lower the minimum age of the force to 30 with five years of civilian experience.
  • Retain the present mandatory retirement age.
  • Require officers to maintain defined levels of physical and psychological health. Using the “young and vigorous” standard comparable to Executive Branch agencies like the Marshall Service, ATF, or DEA would be advised.
  • Officers should be retested every five years.

I would also suggest that the Congress exercise its responsibilities with regard to the USCP but some things are too much to ask.

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